Seattle's offense remains a work in progress through two games. It's the defense that has carried the Seahawks to a 2-0 record heading into their home game against the Giants this week. "Our defense really stepped up to the plate," coach Mike Holmgren said following a 21-10 victory over Arizona last week. "I think they have a chance to be a special group by the end of the season."
The defense has allowed one touchdown and 16 points through two games. Newcomer Julian Peterson has two sacks. Cornerback Kelly Herndon is playing much better in his second season with the team. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu continues to make plays from sideline to sideline. Cornerback Marcus Trufant is blossoming now that he's healthy.
Arizona had put up 34 points in the opener, with quarterback Kurt Warner tossing three touchdown passes. Seattle sacked Warner five times and never let him get comfortable. Warner fumbled four times as Seattle kept the pressure coming. Seattle has great speed on defense. "I don't think we every caught up to their defense," Cardinals coach Dennis Green said. "They beat us to the punch on a pretty consistent basis."
Seattle's offense is still finding its way.
Wide receiver Darrell Jackson has returned with a flourish, adding four receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals. Newly acquired WR Deion Branch should add playmaking ability when he makes his Seattle debut against the Giants. Seattle can build on those aspects of the offense. There remains much room for improvement. Wide receiver Nate Burleson has dropped several passes and just hasn't found a rhythm.
The offensive line hasn't been nearly as consistent as it was most of last season. That should improve as the line builds continuity, but for now the Seahawks are exposing quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to more hits than he'll be able to take over the course of a season.
Hasselbeck has been sacked eight times. He is wearing a protective jacket over his ribs. "Matt's a tough guy, though," Holmgren said. "He responds the way he is supposed to."
Seattle rode its defense and a raucous home crowd to a 21-10 victory over Arizona. The Seahawks squandered numerous chances to blow open the game, but they still won comfortably as the Cardinals never mounted a serious challenge. The defense held Arizona to 256 yards, including only 60 on the ground. Five Seattle players had one sack apiece. The pressure forced Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner into some inaccurate passes. Warner fumbled four times and threw an interception.
Three Seattle penalties prevented the Seahawks from claiming three additional turnovers. Seattle also had a field goal blocked for the second time in two weeks, this one when punter Ryan Plackemeier dropped the snap from LS Derek Rackley. There were also four dropped passes. "The important thing is we win the game against and quality opponent," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I believe Arizona is a much-improved football team."
--WR Darrell Jackson caught four passes for 127 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals. He took advantage of some sloppy coverage breakdowns in the Arizona secondary. The Cardinals suffered some injury problems at cornerback and Jackson made them pay.
--RB Shaun Alexander scored his first touchdown of the season, putting him in a tie with Steve Largent for most in franchise history. Both players have 101 touchdowns.
--TE Itula Mili suffered a knee injury against the Cardinals. Additional tests were planned for Monday. Seattle is very thin at the position because starting TE Jerramy Stevens is out until October.
--LG Floyd Womack suffered a sprained knee against the Cardinals. Former first-round pick Chris Spencer replaced him and played well. This could be the break Spencer needed to get on the field and stay there. Womack has struggled in the first two games.
--LB Julian Peterson leads the Seahawks with two sacks after collecting another one Sunday. Seattle had five sacks against the Cardinals. Peterson is flying around and making plays.
The Cardinals have the luxury, and challenge, of incorporating two key starters back into the lineup. Right offensive tackle Oliver Ross and outside linebacker Karlos Dansby missed either part or all of training camp, as well as the first game of the season with injuries.
Ross, who suffered a knee injury early in camp, was active for the Seattle game but didn't play. He figures to start against St. Louis Sunday. Although Ross is coming off a sub-par season, his return will be an upgrade. The club has tried five other players at right tackle over the past six weeks, with mostly poor results.
"It's obviously going to be important for us to find the right mix and continuity," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "Anywhere you have to get guys that feel comfortable in their positions and confident that they can succeed there. (Ross) should allow us the opportunity to make sure we have the right guys in the proper positions to succeed."
Dansby's situation is a little more muddled. He didn't practice all summer because of a toe injury. He made his practice debut last week and played a considerable amount against Seattle last week. Calvin Pace, a converted defensive end, has replaced Dansby as the starter on the strong side, and coaches have raved about his progress. Because of Pace's performance, Dansby might move to the weak side, where he will challenge Orlando Huff for the starting job.
Coach Dennis Green has been frustrated with Dansby for months, and coaches think he has to learn to play with some pain. He's a dynamic player when he's healthy. Last year, Dansby had three interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Dansby has the size to take on tight ends in the run game, and take on running backs in coverage. With his speed and long arms, he's also an effective blitzer.
The defense is much more explosive with him in the lineup. But coaches think that such a young player, Dansby turns 25 in November, needs to practice more than Dansby has the past three years in the league. The Cardinals once expressed interest in extending Dansby's contract, which runs through 2007, but that's been put on the back burner because of Dansby's health.
The Cardinals had chances to beat the Seahawks but sloppy play on offense doomed them. They had the ball in Seattle territory three times in the third quarter, but could come away with only three points.
A combination of sacks, penalties and incomplete passes did them in, and Seattle won, 21-10.
The defense has allowed touchdowns on the opponent's opening possession in both games. It played fairly well for three quarters against Seattle, but gave up too many plays early. Edgerrin James has yet to gain 100 yards for the Cardinals. He had 64 yards on 18 carries against Seattle, although he did break a few runs of moderate length. He's not worried, however, that he has only 137 yards in two games.
"I'm not a quitter," he said. "When I took this job, I knew that it wasn't going to be a cakewalk, but I'm not a front runner. We're going to keep fighting. I know I'm not going to let up, and I'm not going to let anyone else let up. You don't have to worry about us talking down about each other, because that is not going to happen."
--CB David Macklin, who went from starting the opening game to being inactive in the second contest, could return to the starting lineup this week. Eric Green suffered a groin pull that could keep him out.
--LB James Darling suffered a pulled calf muscle and could miss some time. He's an excellent special teams player and a key contributor in certain defensive packages.
--SS Adrian Wilson had an interception last week, but he also made two critical mistakes in coverage. An illegal contact penalty on third down kept a Seattle drive alive. They eventually scored. And Wilson was beaten for another score.
--QB Kurt Warner has fumbled seven times this year, losing two of them. Warner has faced an abnormal amount of pressure and taken some hits, but he has to hang on to the ball better.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald continues to produce. He had four catches for 52 yards, including a juggling reception for a first down.
--K Neil Rackers missed two field goals but they were from 51 and 53 yards. Rackers missed two field goals all of last year. The second miss came on Christmas Eve in the 15th game.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The 49ers gained more than 350 yards of total offense just once last season. But they've already eclipsed that mark twice in their first two games, thanks to their quarterback-receiver combination. Quarterback Alex Smith and receiver Antonio Bryant have already developed a rapport on the field worth watching. Sometimes Bryant gets animated when things aren't going his way, but Smith said he appreciates his teammates' will to win.
"A lot of times he comes out and he wants the ball," Smith said. "I don't know what receiver doesn't want the ball. A lot of people try to turn this into something. He wants to win as badly as anyone in this room. You'll see him out there blocking on run plays. He works extremely hard. I think he's definitely a team player. He wants to be good and he wants the team to be good."
Bryant has been exceptional in the first two games of the season. He supplied the go-ahead points for the 49ers when he got behind the Rams' secondary to latch onto a perfectly thrown pass from Smith for a 72-yard scoring play. Bryant said not to read too much into his body language during the course of a game. He appeared visibly upset when Smith missed him with some passes in the first half against the Rams.
"I'm very animated," Bryant said. "I would probably be the most animated character out there if this was a cartoon." So far, Bryant appears to be a good fit with the 49ers. Coach Mike Nolan said he loves the competitiveness that Bryant brings to the young team and is willing to accept the occasional outburst that might come along with it.
"I love all my teammates to death," Bryant said. "I was telling my mom the other night that it's almost like having brothers. You come in here and laugh and it's like a big family. There's nothing personal between me and any person in this locker room because we're like brothers."
In his first two games with the 49ers, Bryant has caught eight passes for 245 yards and one touchdown. He also had a 52-yard scoring pass from Smith nullified in the season opener against the Cardinals. "Our offense is working to be better," Bryant said. "We do some good things, but there are things we can do a lot better. That's good because you don't want to be exactly were you need to be right now or else you won't have much to work towards."
Running back Frank Gore rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown, and the 49ers' defense recorded six sacks in a 20-13 victory over the Rams at Monster Park. The 49ers (1-1) scored two touchdowns in the first 4:17 of the second half to take command. Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Manny Lawson recorded two sacks, as did nickel back Chad Williams. The 49ers' pass rush was a glaring weakness in the exhibition season, as no player who earned a roster spot got to the quarterback.
"There are things you hide in the preseason, and we were hiding all of our sacks," Nolan said.
--LT Jonas Jennings did not suit up for the game because of a right high ankle sprain he sustained in the opening-week loss at the Cardinals. He has a good chance to be ready for the game Sunday against the Eagles.
--KR Maurice Hicks returned the kickoff at the start of the second half 59 yards to set up the tying touchdown. Hicks saw limited action on offense and did not carry.
--LB Manny Lawson recorded his first two NFL sacks, and also produced two quarterback hurries. Lawson was the No. 22 overall draft pick from North Carolina State.
--TE Vernon Davis was held without a catch. He had a chance to make a one-handed catch in the end zone in the first half, but failed to come down with the ball.
--RB Frank Gore committed a fumble for the second consecutive game, but he made up for it with a 32-yard TD run early in the second half. His running also helped the 49ers preserve the victory by eating up the final 3:38 of the game. Gore finished with 127 yards on 29 carries -- both career-highs. He also caught two passes for 10 yards.
--QB Alex Smith, who did not pass for more than 200 yards in any of his seven starts as a rookie, went over that mark for the second time in two games this season. He completed 11 of 22 passes for 233 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. His 103.0 passer rating is a career-high.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
It's bad enough that quarterback Marc Bulger continues to struggle with the timing and rhythm of the new offense being implemented by coach Scott Linehan. Throw in some significant shuffling in the offensive line, and the problems become magnified. After losing a road game to division-rival San Francisco Sunday, the Rams now do it again with a trip to Arizona, not knowing if Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace will be available.
Sunday's game opened with Todd Steussie at left guard and Richie Incognito at center following the loss the previous week of center Andy McCollum for the season. Incognito, who started in Week 1 at left guard and was playing his first game since the 2003 season at Nebraska, slid over to center.
Then, when Pace suffered a concussion on the final play of the first half, Steussie moved to left tackle and Adam Goldberg, who has been with the team for just two weeks, came in at left guard. Said running back Steven Jackson, who rushed for 103 yards on 22 carries, "We have a new coaching staff and everyone is trying to get acclimated to a lot of new things. Then we have injuries up front to throw off our rhythm that we have been working on. There's just some things you need to overcome when you are playing on the road and the injuries don't help."
Bulger has yet to throw an interception this season, but he looks out of synch at times while trying to develop a chemistry with Linehan's play-calling. "We had the same system for eight years and now we have something different," Bulger said. "The bottom line is that we're not making enough plays. I've got to make more plays.
"We just missed on two or three passes that could have made a major difference. On one play, I got sacked just as Torry (Holt) was going to come wide open. That's just so frustrating. We were so close to getting a touchdown on that play. Just another split second is what we needed."
At least the Rams scored their first touchdown of the season, when Bulger hit Holt on a 3-yard touchdown pass late in the first half that gave the Rams a 10-3 lead. But they scored just three points in the second half, gaining only 118 yards on 29 plays. But Linehan continues to preach patience, and says Bulger will be fine.
"If you evaluate from where we are starting to the end of the year, I think you will see a progressive improvement," Linehan said. "It's not easy to make a change, whether it's the offense and terminology and everything, but he is not making any excuses. He is out there managing the game and we'll continue to get better and get more throws and other guys will make more plays for him. I just think that offensively we just have to hang tough, hang in there and stick together and continue to improve."
Three big plays allowed by the Rams doomed them in a 20-13 loss to the 49ers. Leading 10-3, the kickoff coverage team lost containment on the second-half kickoff and allowed Maurice Hicks to return the kick 59 yards to the 34-yard line. Two plays later, Frank Gore was untouched on a 32-yard touchdown run. After a three-and-out that began with a 12-yard sack of Bulger on first down, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa suffered a dislocated elbow on a second-down tackle and on 3rd-and-12, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith hit wide receiver Antonio Bryant for a 72-yard touchdown.
The 49ers gained 360 yards on 55 plays, and the Rams allowed 194 of those yards on four plays.
--LT Orlando Pace went to a San Francisco-area hospital for tests after suffering a concussion on the final play of the first half. Pace was able to return with the team to St. Louis. His availability for Sunday's game against Arizona is unknown.
--WLB Pisa Tinoisamoa left the game against the 49ers in the third quarter with a dislocated elbow. Doctors were able to pop the bone back in place, but he didn't play again. The Rams are hopeful he'll be available for Sunday's game against the Cardinals.
--LB Dexter Coakley replaced Pisa Tinoisamoa in the third quarter after Tinoisamoa suffered a dislocated elbow.
--OL Todd Steussie moved from left guard to left tackle in the second half after LT Orlando Pace suffered a concussion on the final of the first half.
--OL Adam Goldberg, acquired by the Rams in a Sept. 3 trade with Minnesota, was inactive but Week 1, but ended up playing left guard against San Francisco in the second half when LT Orlando Pace left the game with a concussion and Todd Steussie switched from left guard to left tackle.